La Samaritaine: LVMH opens a luxury shopping and tourist destination in Paris for 894 million dollars

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Written by Vivian Song, CNNParis

A 19th-century landmark, forced to disappear along the banks of the Seine in Paris for 16 years, has come out of hibernation and resurrected as a new all-in-one destination for shopping, dining and sightseeing.

Half luxury department store, half hotel and promising to feature more than a dozen restaurants, the 750 million euro ($ 894 million) restoration of La Samaritaine, by the French luxury conglomerate LVMH, is the one of the most anticipated openings of the year in the French capital: On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron inaugurated the building, calling it a “wonderful French treasure”.

When the Samaritaine Paris Pont-Neuf opens its doors on Wednesday for the first time since it closed in 2005 for security reasons, it will become the new luxury department store in the Parisian landscape. While the Galeries Lafayette are best known for their theatrical balconies and Neo-Byzantine glass dome, and Le Bon Marché bills itself as the oldest department store in the world, the great draw of the Samaritaine Paris Pont-Neuf will be its location. .
Located in the geographic center of Paris on the right bank, opposite the city’s oldest stone bridge, the Pont Neuf, the heritage building holds prime real estate along the Seine, along with the Louvre Museum a five minute walk to the west, Notre Dame Cathedral within walking distance to the east and the recently opened Contemporary Art Museum Bourse de Commerce-Collection Pinault five minutes straight north.

Speaking at the opening, Eleonore de Boysson, regional director of DFS Group, the luxury retail operator owned by LVMH, said the area “will become a very fashionable and reborn area”.

Christian Louboutin is one of the new department store’s many luxury brands. Credit: Lucas Barioulet / AFP / Getty Images

Meanwhile, the accompanying five-star hotel, Cheval Blanc Paris, with its four restaurants and Dior spa, will open later on September 7. The 72 rooms and suites offer a view of the Seine, for one price – prices start at 1,500 euros. ($ 1,790).

To restore the monument to its former glory, LVMH and DFS called on leading international design companies, including Yabu Pushelberg for the interiors; the local Malherbe Paris agency for the basement beauty department, presented as the largest of its kind in Europe with 36,600 square feet; and the Japanese company Sanaa for the somewhat controversial corrugated glass facade of Rue de Rivoli, which was criticized by critics for looking like a “shower curtain” when the plans were first unveiled in 2011.

But, according to architectural historian Jean-François Cabestan, La Samaritaine has always courted controversies and provoked strong reactions.

“La Samaritaine has always been scandalous”, co-author of 2015 book “La Samaritaine, Paris” said in a telephone interview.

“From the start, the building was flashy with its colorful enamel panels and the use of glass and iron instead of traditional stone.”

Inside the recently renovated La Samaritaine.

Inside the recently renovated La Samaritaine. Credit: Lucas Barioulet / AFP / Getty Images

In fact, in stark contrast to the uniformity of the neighboring Haussmann buildings, the signs on the facade of the main entrance to rue de la Monnaie, designed by Frantz Jourdain and completed in 1910, evoke a Paris of the Art Nouveau era. , with classic floral designs and a vintage color palette of golden yellow, muted blue-gray, greens and golds.

The facade facing the Seine, meanwhile, is a classic example of Art Deco, designed by Henri Sauvage and completed in 1928. The building is listed as a historical monument in France to be an emblematic example of Art Nouveau and Art Deco design , an architectural rarity, said Jean-François Lagneau, chief architect of historic monuments, who has worked on the restoration project for the past 11 years.

“It is really the most representative building of this confrontation of two styles in Paris, which are normally incompatible,” he told CNN.

But it is when entering the main hall, flanked by the luxury brands Fendi and Balenciaga, that the architectural grandeur of the building is revealed to visitors: a grand monumental staircase and five central landing ramps in “horizon blue” wrought iron, attract visitors. the look. to a breathtaking view of the rising glass roof. A trip to the top-floor Voyager restaurant also rewards visitors with 4,575 square feet of masterfully restored peacock frescoes – a classic Art Nouveau motif – originally painted by Jourdain’s son, Francis.

Overall, the result is a bright, airy and luminous space that replicates a clear sky. Or, like Capestan described it, “a cathedral of color, glass and natural light.”
An interior view of the Samaritaine in Paris.

An interior view of the Samaritaine in Paris. Credit: Lucas Barioulet / AFP / Getty Images

This is an apt description, in fact the French writer Émile Zola also described the department store setting in his 1883 book “Le paradis des dames” as a bazaar which replaced churches and became the “new religion. “of the Parisian woman.

French writer Émile Zola used similar language to describe the fictional decor of a department store he invented for his 1883 book “Le paradis des dames” with the help of his writer and architect friend Jourdain who provided conceptual sketches. The department store is a bazaar which replaces the churches, he writes, and becomes the new religion of the Parisian.

Neither Zola nor Jourdain knew at the time that, a few years after the publication of the book, businessman Ernest Cognacq would ask Jourdain to help him develop the retail store he had opened in 1870 at Le Pont. New, called La Samaritaine, in the city’s biggest shopping destinations. .

Exterior shot of La Samaritaine in November 1949.

Exterior shot of La Samaritaine in November 1949. Credit: AFP / Getty Images

In its heyday of the early 20th century, the department store spanned four stores and occupied an entire city block to become the largest in Paris at 538,200 square feet, attracting working-class and middle-class customers for its affordable prices and convenience. variety of products. Today, the restoration of the main department store overlooking the Seine is the smallest and, perhaps the most selective among its competitors, with a floor space of 215,280 square feet. In total, the store houses 600 brands, 50 of which will be exclusive to the Samaritaine Paris Pont-Neuf.

The new beauty area at La Samaritaine.

The new beauty area at La Samaritaine. Credit: By Stéphane Aboudram / We Are Contents

“I’m proud that we were able to restore the building as Ernest Cognacq and his architect Frantz Jourdain knew, and I think they would recognize their building if they saw it now,” Lagneau said.

While Cabestan applauds the painstaking restoration efforts and the mixed-use concept – the project also includes social housing, offices and a daycare – he points out that the remake stands in stark contrast to the store’s original heritage as a retailer. for the average Parisian: it was a place to go for affordable goods and even for entertainment with in-store theatrical and musical performances.

“In a way, it was an opera for the poor,” he said. “But this is no longer a store for the lower class. It will be for tourists and for people with means.”

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